Ballot Measure Results from the 2019 Primary Election
August 13, 2019
Category: Emergency Medical Services , Elections , Fire Protection , Sales and Use Taxes
Editor’s note: This article was originally published on August 14 and election results will be certified August 20, which may lead to some minor content updates.
It’s August once again, which means it’s time for me to dive into the primary election results and see how local ballot measures are faring across Washington.
I’ve been tracking local ballot measures at MRSC for five years now, and I always learn something new and interesting in the process. Just like always, there are several ballot measures that are still too close to call, whose final outcome won’t be known until the results are officially certified. This is a good reminder to citizens and local governments alike that every single vote counts!
There were 60 local measures on the ballot this time around, spread across 24 counties. While I don’t have the time or space to write about all 60 measures, here are some that caught my eye. Later this month, after the results have been certified, I’ll update our Local Ballot Measure Database with the complete results.
There were quite a few county public safety sales taxes on the ballot. Voters in Kittitas County easily approved a permanent extension of the county’s existing 0.3% public safety sales tax. Previously, the county had gone to voters every seven years for reauthorization. The revenues are used for law enforcement, courts, and animal control.
Voters in Spokane County approved a 10-year extension of the existing 0.1% public safety sales tax, which is used for the sheriff’s department, courts, and jail, as well as public safety initiatives. But in Mason County, a proposed 0.3% public safety sales tax for criminal justice purposes failed.
Meanwhile, voters in Chelan and Douglas counties indefinitely extended the existing 0.1% E-911 sales tax for RiverCom. Voters had last approved this sales tax in 2009 with a 10-year sunset clause, but the new extension removes the sunset clause. Also of note, new legislation that took effect July 28 (ESSB 5272) increases the maximum E-911 sales tax from 0.1% to 0.2%. Any county with an existing 0.1% tax will have to seek voter approval to increase the rate to 0.2%.
Voters in College Place overwhelmingly approved a proposition to annex into the Walla Walla County Rural Library District. The city (population of almost 10,000) does not currently have a library, which according to city officials makes it the largest city in the state without library services, although last year the city council budgeted $3,000 to allow residents to obtain library cards from the Walla Walla city library or the rural library district. Now that annexation has been approved, the library district intends to build a library in College Place within the next four years.
Meanwhile, voters are approving levy lid lifts in both the Pend Oreille County Library District and the Spokane County Library District.
In Seattle, voters approved a 7-year levy lid lift for the city library. Most of the revenue will be used to maintain existing services, while some of the money will be used to expand hours, pay for seismic renovations and children’s programs, and eliminate fines for overdue items. Seattle joins a growing number of library systems nationwide that have eliminated overdue fines since these can have the effect of preventing low-income residents from using the library.
And in Castle Rock, a 1-year excess levy for the library is falling short of the required 60% by a single vote as of this writing (although the results are not yet official and this could change).
Fire and EMS
Voters in Medical Lake approved a proposal to annex into Spokane County Fire District No. 3. Medical Lake has relied on its all-volunteer fire department since 1904, but the department has struggled with dwindling volunteerism and missed calls.
Voters in Lake Stevens approved the merger of Lake Stevens Fire into Snohomish County Fire District No. 7 near Monroe. The merger will create a large district with about 162,000 residents. The two merging districts are located about 15 minutes apart from each other, with another fire protection district in between. However, the merger is permitted under recent legislation that took effect in 2017-2018. Previously, fire district mergers and annexations, as well as the formation of a regional fire authority, were only authorized for “adjacent” fire protection jurisdictions, but now such actions are allowed as long as the jurisdictions are within “reasonable proximity.”
And voters in East Jefferson Fire Rescue and Snohomish County Fire District No. 17 approved proposals to increase the number of fire commissioners from three to five.
A $345 million bond measure for EvergreenHealth in Kirkland appears to have narrowly fallen short of the required 60% threshold, the second time that the measure has failed this year. The original version, which narrowly failed in April, would have increased property taxes starting next year, overlapping with an existing bond measure that will expire in 2023. The revised proposal would have delayed any property tax increases until the existing bond measure expires, essentially replacing the old bond measure with a new one, but a controversial mailer generated significant criticism and may have contributed to the measure’s apparent defeat.
A $19 million bond measure for Klickitat Valley Health also failed. The measure would have created a new two-story hospital addition to expand inpatient care, surgical services, and pharmacy facilities.
Parks and Recreation
In Selah, a 6-year park and recreation service area levy for the Selah Aquatic Center is failing by about one percent. Voters originally approved a 6-year levy in 2012, followed by a 20-year bond measure in 2015, but this now marks the district’s third straight levy that has gotten a majority of the vote but fallen short of the required 60% approval, following a failed 1-year excess levy in 2017 and another 6-year levy attempt last year. The district is now considering its options and whether it can raise enough money through private fundraising to keep the pool open next year.
And in King County, an $810 million parks levy is easily passing, which will include funding for parks, open space, and the Seattle zoo and aquarium. About 25% of the revenues will be dedicated to increasing access to parks and open spaces for underserved communities, mostly in the southern part of the county.
And finally, voters in Chelan and Douglas counties approved a 0.2% increase to the transit sales tax for Link Transit to expand and improve service. This is the first increase that Link Transit has ever sought since voters approved the existing 0.4% sales tax rate nearly three decades ago. The sales tax increase will be staggered, with a 0.1% increase in 2020 and another 0.1% increase in 2022.
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